American Gun Culture Is Literally Killing Us: A Reading List

“You look like you’re saving the world. Are you saving the world?”

I looked up from my notebook into the face of an tipsy, friendly woman, glammed up for her night out. We were in the narrow aisle of our local pizza joint. She’d shared a quick snack with her friend, and my sandwich and soda were half-finished. Writing here has become a Friday night tradition: When I wrap up my shift at the bookstore, I head here to eat, read and sketch out last-minute ideas for my reading lists.

If she knew what I was reading, she wouldn’t ask me that. “No!” I laughed. “I wish.”

“Well, good luck with it, whatever you’re doing,” she said. I thanked her. She left with her friend.

I was reading—am reading—about guns. About their magnetism, their effect, their handlers. About the people caught in the literal crossfire, the innocent and the marginalized.

Growing up, my greatest fear was dying in a school shooting. I still remember: Two boys in black walking into my classroom, one of them holding a stapler at a right angle. I saw the matte black. My mind read: gun. I panicked. I grabbed the arm of the student next to me. “What?” he asked, startled. I started shaking and laughing and breathing and sweating. The boys were only stopping in to see if my math teacher had any extra staples. They were not there to kill us, me first in the front row.

As long as guns exist, I don’t have a chance of saving the world. I feel useless against daily tragedy, against assault rifles and bullets. Here is something humiliating: I am afraid to write all this. Some people love guns. I do not love guns. I wish fewer people owned guns. Often, I wish no one owned guns. I realize many people will disagree with me, and I do not want someone who loves guns to hurt me.

I am not a sociologist nor a law enforcement official nor a politician, a policymaker. This is my job. This, what I’m doing right now: putting words into sentences and putting those sentences into the world. I do not have answers. I do not know which kinds of guns should be allowed and what types of background checks are most effective.

(And on a very personal note: I deal with mental illness every day, and I’ve never considered massacring a roomful of strangers. “Mental illness” cannot be a catch-all for racism and misogyny. Call these attitudes made manifest what they are: terrorism.)

I encourage you to share the things you’ve read on this particular subject.  It is impossible to talk about guns without talk about race, class, and gender. This list is only the beginning.

1. “Why Do We Humanize White Guys Who Kill People?” (Rebecca Traister, The Cut, December 2015)

Why does our sympathy, as a nation, only extend as far as skin color? Rebecca Traister does an excellent job interpreting the intersectional politics of America’s obsession with guns.

“It is crucial that we explore the psychological development of human beings who turn violent, as well as those who are felled by and affected by violence. The urge to tell their stories, to try to make sense of their paths is natural.

What’s wrong is our failure to give equal time, energy, emotional and narrative consideration to the experiences of those figures who are not white and male. Why might Dajerria Becton not have listened to the cop? What had her morning been like? Besides being the son of an illiterate heroin addict, who was Freddie Gray?”

2. “Scary Negroes with Guns.” (Messiah Rhodes, The New Inquiry, February 2015)

“American guns are meant to represent the white man’s freedom to protect himself from government and from the colored hordes that surround him. As black men living without dignity through slavery, Jim Crow, and discrimination, for many a gun feels like redemption, allowing us to feel momentarily equal to the oppressor who holds all the rest. But this feeling of redemption is fraught with danger: when a black man handles a gun of his own accord, he reverses the gun’s supposed purpose, and white people get scared.”

3. “A Black Woman Walks Into a Gun Show.” (Kashana Cauley, BuzzFeed Ideas, November 2015)

Want to buy a gun sans background check? Just attend a gun show in Florida, Texas, Virginia, Ohio…the list goes on. If you’re from Chicago, your gun might’ve come from Indiana, where writer Kashana Cauley visits the Kokomo Gun Show.

4. “Spitting, Stalking, Rape Threats: How Gun Extremists Target Women.” (Mark Follman, Mother Jones, May 2014)

In late November, three people were murdered at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, CO. Planned Parenthood provides myriad health resources, but its infamy in conservative circles rests on its commitment to providing safe, accessible abortions. There is animosity when people, primarily women and non-binary folks, claim agency over their own bodies.

Which brings us to this article. Published in 2014—a year and a half ago!—it still feels relevant. In this story, women who advocate for gun control reform are the targets. They are verbally harassed, physically attacked and subject to doxxing and other invasions of privacy from rabidly pro-gun, male-dominated organizations.

5. “Sharpness.” (Siamak Vossoughi, The Rumpus, May 2014)

What is the positive equivalent of the power behind pointing and shooting? Elementary school teacher and writer Siamak Vossoughi watches a tale of two classrooms unfold in this moving essay.

6. “Children and Guns: The Hidden Toll.” (Michael Luo and Mike McIntire, New York Times, September 2013)

A chilling investigation into undercounting the accidental deaths of hundreds of children due to the guns kept in their own homes or the homes of their friends and family members.

In opposing safe-storage laws, some gun rights advocates have argued that a majority of accidental shootings of children are committed by adults with criminal backgrounds. The Times’s review found that was not the case — children were most often the shooters — and that the families involved came from all walks of life…Even in accidental shootings where criminals were in some way involved, they usually were not the ones pulling the trigger. Rather, they — like many law-abiding adults in these cases — simply left a gun unsecured.

7. “The New Normal is Happy Sorrow.” (Stacia L. Brown, The New Republic, December 2015)

How do we resist desensitization in the wake of daily tragedies? Stacia L. Brown commits to remembering small details of the lives lost in mass shootings. Should you choose to do the same, the Los Angeles Times has compiled a series of remembrances for the victims and survivors of the recent attack in San Bernardino, California.

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